Minutes of the 20 September 2005 meeting

The International Lake Superior Board of Control met on 20 September 2005 in a board room at Ontario Power Generation’s Beck Complex, Queenston, Ontario. Mr. McLeod convened the meeting at 1:00 p.m. The attendees were:

United States Canada
Board Members
COL G.E. Johnston (Alt.) Mr. C. McLeod
Mr. J. Kangas Mr. D. Fay
Regulation Representatives
Mr. S. Thieme (Alt.) Mr. D. Fay
Mr. R. Caldwell (Alt.)
Dr. M. Colosimo
Mr. D. Sawruk
Ms. I. Brooks
Dr. P. Pilon
Mr. T. McAuley
Mr. V. Lundhild

Item 1. Approval of Agenda
The order of the agenda was modified to help accommodate some attendees’ travel schedules.

Item 2. Update on Hydrologic Conditions and Regulation
Mr. Fay provided the Board with the following update on hydrologic conditions for lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, and Erie, and provided slides of recent net basin water supplies, levels (observed and forecasted), and Lakes Superior/Michigan-Huron water balance parameters.

  • Water supplies to the Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan-Huron basins in the past six months were below normal, except for Lake Superior’s in June. Lakes Michigan-Huron NBS monthly exceedence probabilities have ranged from about 69% to 97%.
  • Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron levels are below average, and below levels of last year. Lake Superior was 3 to 17 cm (1 to 7 in.) below average for the past six months. Lakes Michigan-Huron were 23 to 42 cm (9 to 17 in.) lower than average. Levels were higher than last year at the beginning of the reporting period, but have since fallen well below those of a year earlier. There was unusually little rise in the levels of Lakes Michigan-Huron this spring due to the dry hydrologic conditions.
  • Lake Superior outflows were near average from March through June, and above average in July and August. The September outflow is below average. Outflows were as specified by Regulation Plan 1977-A except for an over-discharge in August to accommodate flow measurements at the Compensating Works. The gate setting at the Compensating Works was the equivalent of ½ gate open except in July and August. In July, a 5-gates-open setting at the Compensating Works was prescribed by Plan 1977-A, while the Plan called for 1 gate open setting in August.
  • Mr. Fay presented the Board with a range of projected levels for the next 6 months, along with slides showing how 2005 levels compare to the previous two years. With average supplies, Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron levels are expected to be 11 cm (4 in.) and 10 cm (4 in.) below chart datum, respectively, by February. Lake Superior is expected to decline below chart datum in December, while Lakes Michigan-Huron are expected to fall below chart datum in November with average supplies.
  • The 1900-1986 “standardized departure” data as used in Plan 1977-A show that Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan-Huron were in close balance at the beginning of September, both being about the same number of units below their mean level.

The Board agreed that outflows specified by the regulation plan be continued.

Item 2a. Corrections to Algoma Steel Water Usage Estimates
Mr. Caldwell reported that Algoma Steel advised Board staff in March 2005 that a reporting error had been discovered and that the amount of water actually withdrawn from the Upper St. Marys River had not been correctly accounted for in their monthly estimates. For an unknown length of time, they had reported only the estimated water used in their processes rather than the actual amount taken from the upper river which includes process water as well as an unused amount that is taken and then returned to the river downstream. Algoma Steel was able to provide correct total withdrawal data back to 1994, but was unable to determine when the reporting error commenced. Board records of total Lake Superior outflow and supplies were corrected back to 1994. The reported usage amounts had been roughly 3 m3/s (100 cfs) in lieu of the actual 7 to 12 m3/s (250 to 420 cfs) diverted. It was emphasized that these errors amounted to about 0.2% of the total river flow, and are not significant.

The Board agreed that a letter to each of the domestic and industrial users which withdraw water from the river at Sault Ste. Marie should be written, asking them to describe their water measurement methodologies.

Item 3. Update on Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions
Mr. Fay reported that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) provided the Board with an update on the discharges of the Long Lac and Ogoki Diversions. The Ogoki Diversion into Lake Nipigon (which flows into Lake Superior) averaged 178 m3/s (6,290 cfs) during March-August 2005. The Long Lac Diversion averaged 33.2 m3/s (1,170 cfs) for the same period. The total diversion was reported to be 126% of average for the reporting period. Water (22 m3/s [780 cfs] monthly average) was spilled northward to the Ogoki River in March and April due to high Lake Nipigon levels. Additional spills northward from Long Lake during May and June equated to 12.0 and 0.9 m3/s (420 to 30 cfs), respectively.

Item 4. Hydropower Plants
Item 4a. Maintenance Outages
Edison Sault Electric Company: Mr. Sawruk noted that there were no significant outages to report.

U.S. Government Plant (USGP): Mr. Thieme reported that routine testing, maintenance, and repairs resulted in generators being out-of-service at various times. From 18 to 22 April, Unit 3 was down for inspection and overhaul; from 2 to 3 May, Unit 10 was down for governor repairs, from 7 to 8 June, Unit 3 was down for governor repairs, from 20 to 23 June Units 1 and 2 were down for governor repairs, and from 25 to 26 June, Unit 3 was down for testing.

Great Lakes Power Limited: Mr. Lundhild informed the Board of the current shutdown of Unit 2, from 19 September to about 25 October. It will undergo an annual inspection as well as governor, unit controls, and static excitation upgrades. An unexpected shutdown of Unit 1 occurred on 19 September when Unit 2 was taken offline, apparently due to a large piece of debris breaking a cotter pin on a wicket gate. Unit 1 was expected to be back online as early as September 20, even though it needed to be dewatered for the repair. As well, a series of scheduled maintenance outages occurred in May. Unit 1 was shut down from 14 to 23 May and Unit 3 was shut down from 26 to 29 May. The annual plant shutdown for the Lake Superior Power cable inspection will be on 12 October. The total length of the shutdown was not expected to exceed 8-12 hours. Requests are made to the Board each year to facilitate these annual inspections. Levels in the St Marys River downstream of the plant can fall by about 20 cm (8 in.) during these outages. GLPL will place a notice in the local newspaper and Board staff will add a notice to their monthly press releases. Efforts will be made to have a notice placed in the local U.S. newspaper as well. The Board asked that the estimated impact of these shutdowns on water levels be included in the Board’s semi-annual progress report to the IJC.

Item 4b. Flow Measurements
Mr. Thieme reported that a series of flow measurements were undertaken at all three hydropower plants in June 2005 to verify the plants flow reporting systems. Preliminary results appear to demonstrate favourable agreement between the in-stream verification measurements and the hydropower plant reports with the exception of the U.S. Government Plant. Differences between measurements taken at the headrace to those at the tailrace suggest that there may be leakage through the rock-filled timber cribs in the dike upstream of the main plant. A full report is expected by the end of December.

Item 4c. Flow Capacities
Mr. Fay discussed a 14 July 2005 letter from the IJC, requesting that the Board clarify the capacities of each of the three power facilities at Sault Ste. Marie, and determine if changes are needed to the approved regulation plan as a result of any changes to the capacities of these facilities. He noted that this request stemmed from a 29 June letter from the Board regarding the hydropower flow split expected in July. Since the flow rating curves at ESEC have been recently revised, it is now realized that the ESEC capacity is greater than previously thought, in other words that they pass more flow for a given amount of power generation. As a result, the flow capacity of the ESEC plant is now greater than previously estimated, and thus the combined capacities of the two US plants are somewhat greater than that of the Canadian GLPL plant. Mr. Caldwell added the hydropower plant capacities also depend on the head between the upper and lower St Marys River levels, and that a greater outflow will reduce the head. He noted that GLPL’s capacity decreased in July due to the rise in the tailwater level at the plant due to the higher combined flows including spillage through the Compensating Works. He pointed out that the plants can provide perhaps a handful of capacity estimates for various recent head/flow combinations, but that a complete relationship is not possible at this time due to limited data. Mr. McAuley suggested that the Board attempt to clarify the percentages (in terms of the binational flow split), along with an outline of implications due to varying heads. The IJC has requested a briefing on the matter at their October semi-annual meeting.

Item 5. Compensating Works Status
Item 5a. Inspection
A full five-year inspection and alignment survey of the structure, including underwater inspections, was undertaken this year. The above-water inspection occurred on 24 to 26 May. The U.S. underwater inspection was conducted on 10 May, facilitated by the use of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The across-structure alignment survey determined that the structure had not undergone any significant movement (outside the permitted 4 mm tolerance).

Mr. Lundhild reported that he had just received the report on the Canadian inspection. There is a recommendation to undertake an approximately $1 million program to paint all steel surfaces on the GLPL portion of the structure, including the gate counterweights, which were found to have deteriorated significantly. This work is planned for the period from 2007 to 2010, at a rate of two gates per summer. While each is dewatered for painting, any other gate work will also be done. While Gate 1 is dewatered, a siphon or pump will be used to maintain the flow to the fishery remedial channel. Mr. Lundhild added that $15,000 worth of fencing was installed along the northern abutment in August to deter swimmers from jumping off the downstream side of the structure in the vicinity of the rail bridge. Steel nose plates will be installed on three upstream piers later this fall.

Mr. Thieme reported that U.S. findings demonstrated no major concerns above the water line. Some cracking and gaps in the upstream concrete apron were evident, and these will be monitored with routine ROV camera surveys. Also, some minor maintenance is required, including clearing of embankment slopes, removal of a concrete obstruction upstream of Gate 11, and some routine cleaning, lubrication, and painting of equipment. Additional plans include installation of signage lighting, updates of the Emergency Notification Plan and Emergency Operations Plan, and development of a maintenance tracking system.

As always, routine maintenance and inspections continued over the past six months. The structure remains in generally good condition.

Item 5b. Flow Measurements
The Corps of Engineers and Environment Canada conducted flow measurements to verify and update the stage-discharge rating relationships for the gates from 3 to 12 August 2005. This was the first time since July 2001 that flow measurements at the Compensating Works have been performed. The initial gate opening on 3 August was five gates fully open (the July setting). Then the setting was increased to seven gates on 4 August, then reduced to six on 5 August, four on 6 August, three on 8 August, two on 9 August, one on 10 August, and one-half on 11 August. The setting was returned to the equivalent of one-half gate open on 12 August, which was maintained for the balance of the month. Measurement results are being analyzed and a report detailing the program and rating update will be provided to the Board prior to its spring 2006 meeting.

Item 5c. USFWS Concern Re: Flows in Rapids
Mr. Kangas reported that Board staff held a teleconference with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee in July regarding the sea lamprey trapping program. USFWS expressed concern that the higher flow in the St. Marys Rapids in July might attract lamprey to the rapids rather than to the installed traps at the hydropower plants, and thus adversely impact the trapping efficiency. Board staff requested any analysis that might become available regarding the trapping efficiency during the increased rapids flows, and suggested that this might be an issue for the Upper Lakes Study to consider. A letter was received on 21 July from USFWS, noting that they would appreciate it if any changes to the spillage rates during June through August could be minimized, and requested the opportunity to comment on the plan to revise the regulation plan with regards to their trapping program.

Item 6. Peaking and Ponding
Item 6a. Update
Mr. Fay reported that, due to adequate levels in the lower St Marys River and higher monthly outflows, ponding operations had not been restricted during the reporting period. However, restrictions were expected within the next few months due to the relatively low Lake Huron level and declining Lake Superior outflow. Mr. Fay added that the Board is entering the second year of the current approval period and an update report to the IJC on 2004 and 2005 operations is due in January 2006.

Item 6b. MDNR Liaison
Mr. Kangas led a review of the status of the proposal to lower the threshold level to restrict ponding by the hydropower entities. In 2004, some navigation interests indicated that they could now tolerate a new lower threshold level for the suspension of ponding at the power plants due to the dredging that had occurred in the lower St Marys River. This would be of benefit to the hydropower entities. Shipping associations, government agencies and the public were contacted for their views on this proposal. The approval of the IJC would be required to revise the threshold value. The current threshold level is the U.S. Slip gauge chart datum elevation of 176.39 m (578.71 ft.) on IGLD 1985. The FedNav letter suggested that the threshold be dropped 1 ft., to 176.09 m (577.71 ft.).

Only one response was received that was not in support of the proposal. This was a letter from a fisheries biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who requested that additional research be undertaken into any possible effects on the aquatic environment prior to implementing the proposal. ESEC had recently forwarded to the Board a critical review of this response by Dr. R. Marshall Werner of Lake Superior State University, prepared 30 August 2005. Dr. Werner stressed that MDNR biologist’s arguments reflect peaking and ponding experiences along river systems markedly different than the Lower St. Marys River. Mr. Fay added that as part of the initial IJC approval process a few years ago, an IJC-sponsored report on possible environmental impacts of peaking and ponding on the Lower River concluded that it was unlikely that there were any significant detrimental impacts. The Board will forward Dr. Werner’s report to MDNR. The proposed Upper Lakes Plan of Study includes an assessment of the impacts of peaking and ponding.

Mr. McAuley suggested that this issue be raised at the IJC semi-annual meeting in October and that the Board include a recommendation at that time. The Board agreed to retain the current threshold level (U.S. Slip gauge chart datum elevation) for the time being.

Item 7. Communications with the Public
The Board briefly reviewed the multi-site public meeting and teleconference held on July 12, 2005 in Midland ON and Sault Ste Marie MI. The Board was pleased with the good attendance of about 70 in Midland and 25 in Sault Ste. Marie. It was agreed that most of the feedback was positive, especially regarding the multi-site format and location selection. It noted the concerns raised regarding the continued low water levels, particularly on Lakes Michigan-Huron, and the questions regarding the inclusion of a study of the St. Clair River in the proposed Upper Lakes Study.

Potential formats and site locations for upcoming meetings with the public were discussed. Although it was agreed that multi-site teleconferences appear to be effective and well-received, Board resources are stretched thinly with this format. It was suggested that that the Sault Ste. Marie and Georgian Bay sites are effective, and efforts will be made to link a site in Duluth, Minnesota by video-teleconference next year. It was agreed that the plans for next year’s meeting with the public would be confirmed at the March 2006 business meeting. The U.S. Chair will lead the 2006 meetings.

Item 7a. Notices of Flow Changes
Mr. Fay reported that some concerns were raised at the Sault Ste. Marie meeting site and afterwards regarding the July increase in the gate setting at the Compensating Works from an equivalent of ½ to five gates open. Only a few days notice was possible via news media and e-mail release due to the uncertainty regarding whether or not Lake Superior levels would rise to the point where the criterion c limit would no longer apply. He explained that under criterion c outflows are limited to those that would have occurred with the channel hydraulic conditions that existed prior to the construction of the control structures at Sault Ste. Marie. When Lake Superior levels rise above 183.40 m, this flow limitation does not apply, and this may result in a larger than usual change in the monthly outflow. Due to conditions near the end of June, it was very hard to predict whether or not the restriction would continue to apply into July. In fact, the lake level rose above the criterion c threshold such that the Plan 1977-A outflow increased from 2230 m3/s in June to 3070 m3/s in July, resulting in the significant increase in spillage rates through the Compensating Works. He noted that this situation was a relatively rare event and the last time that a multiple gate open setting had occurred was in 1997.

Mr. Caldwell reported that, at the public meeting, staff from Lake Superior State University’s Aquatic Research Laboratory (ARL), as well as the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, asked whether or not environmental considerations were taken into account when opening gates. They had suggested that flow increases in the rapids be made gradually over several days to minimize any potential impacts. The short (few days) notice provided prior to the increase in rapids flow was also a cause for concern among the angling community due to the alleged loss of tourism dollars and loss of angling opportunities.

Discussions ensued on how to provide more timely notice under such circumstances. Mr. Caldwell noted that the difficulty in many instances is that “false positives” may result. In other words, Board staff may forecast multiple gate openings, but, ultimately, actual conditions are such that no increase in the gate setting occurs. This could have an impact on local tourism, as several people have suggested that anglers may cancel planned trips to the rapids if they expect high discharges (that may or may not come to fruition). The Board agreed that staff would provide advanced notice as early as possible, based on the expected risks of large increases and/or anticipated multiple gate changes, and would attempt to include some degree of likelihood of such releases.

Mr. Caldwell also informed the Board that ARL recently installed a Web camera in a tunnel on the eastern end of the tailrace at the ESEC hydropower plant in order to permit direct speciation of the fish and eels which frequent the rapids and lower river throughout the year. This tool may help experts determine what periods of the year the impact of flow changes might be minimized.

Item 8. Review Semi-Annual Progress Report
The Board reviewed and made some changes to the draft Semi-Annual Progress Report.

Mr. Fay will incorporate the changes, update the data, and distribute advance copies to the IJC.

Item 9. Other Business
Item 9a. Status of Upper Lakes Plan of Study Revision
Dr. Pilon and Mr. Thieme presented a summary of the proposed draft Plan of Study (POS). In May 2005, the IJC appointed a binational team to update the 2002 POS to review the operation of the structures controlling Lake Superior’s outflows and the current regulation plan. As the original POS had not been funded, the IJC added three new tasks: examine physical processes and possible ongoing changes in the St. Clair River and their impacts on Lakes Michigan-Huron, incorporate lessons learned from the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Study (LOSLRS), and further streamline the original POS.

A draft POS was released to the public for comment on 25 August. A series of four public consultation meetings were held in September that Board representatives attended. A total of about 100 people attended. Public comments were requested by 19 September, and IJC and Board comments are desired by 30 September. Staff reviewed the draft POS and provided comments to the Revision Team. Mr. Sawruk added that ESEC provided a response in which they requested that the study team look to review the regulation plan to minimize spillage, such as occurred in July.

The scope of the study would encompass Lake Superior down through Lake Erie, including the Niagara River. The study will not consider changes to the binational Treaties and Agreements. A binational team of experts from the governments, citizens, First Nations and Native Americans, industries, and academia would conduct the study. Resource impact evaluations would include the coastal zone, ecosystem (including wetlands), recreational boating and tourism, municipal/industrial/domestic usages, commercial navigation, and hydropower.

A total of 23 pages of lessons learned from the LOSLRS were included in the draft. The final POS will be presented to the IJC on 14 October. The decision to proceed will rest with the approval of funding by the Governments. At this time, it is anticipated that the study would take five years at a cost of approximately $13.9 million (USD), shared equally between the two countries.

The Board is prepared to assist with the study, and could provide technical data and upper lakes hydrological modelling support, as well as operating experience in Lake Superior outflow regulation.

Item 9b. Status of Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway Study
This study is looking at the engineering aspects and cost of maintaining the current system over the next 50 years, along with implications this has on the system’s economy and the environment. For the information of the Board, Mr. Thieme reiterated that, even though the reconnaissance study was approved by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters on 13 February 2003, the Corps was asked to submit a supplemental report, including a more extensive environmental, economic, and engineering analysis of the existing system only. The study team is 2/3 of the way through the 42-month supplemental phase. Public review and comments will be sought prior to the start of a feasibility study.

The Engineering team has completed the infrastructure analysis and is finalizing the ranking of various components to focus more detailed reliability analyses on critical components. The Economic team has completed transportation rate and elasticity analyses (to define at what point shippers might choose an alternative mode of transport), has begun development of a historic database of traffic and vessel information, and is initiating a new vessel/cargo study for forecasting future traffic scenarios. The Environmental team has completed initial characterization of several key impact-susceptible resources and has begun developing the baseline for use in assessing potential impacts associated with continued operation and maintenance of the system.

Item 9c. Status of Lock Replacement
Mr. Thieme reported that the Limited Re-evaluation Report for the replacement of a lock at Sault Ste. Marie MI, including an economic analysis, had been rewritten and submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters (HQUSACE). On 18 February 2005, HQUSACE forwarded the report to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (ASA) for review and approval. Revisions have been made to incorporate comments from the ASA. Col. Johnston added that funding is not anticipated until at least the 2007 fiscal year.

Item 10. Next Meeting and IJC Appearance
The IJC Appearance has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on 20 October. The reception is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. the evening of 19 October. The spring meeting will take place in the U.S., with date and location to be determined.

There being no other business, the meeting adjourned at 5:10 p.m.



20 September 2004, 1300-1630 hours

Sir Adam Beck II GS, 14000 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls, Ontario


Draft Agenda

  1. Approval of Agenda

  2. Update on hydrologic conditions and regulation
    1. Corrections to Algoma Steel water usage estimates

  3. Update on Long Lac and Ogoki diversions

  4. Hydropower plants
    1. Maintenance outages
    2. Flow measurements
    3. Flow capacities

  5. Compensating Works
    1. Inspection
    2. Flow measurements
    3. USFWS concern re: flows in Rapids

  6. Peaking and Ponding
    1. Update
    2. MDNR liaison

  7. Communications with the public

  8. Review semi-annual progress report

  9. Other business:
    1. Status of Upper Lakes Plan of Study Revision,
    2. Status of Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway Study,
    3. Status of Lock Replacement

  10. Next meeting and IJC appearance